The leader of the Ekuphakameni faction of the Nazareth Baptist Church, Inkosi Vukile Shembe (left) and Inkosi Sizwe Shembe, leader of the Ginyezinye faction. Photo: Rajesh Jantilal

In an unprecedented move, two factions of the Nazareth Baptist Church, a spin-off from the Shembe Church, have agreed to cast aside their differences and end their drawn-out court battle over leadership.

The two leaders, Inkosi Vukile Shembe of the Ekuphakameni faction and Inkosi Sizwe Shembe of the Ginyezinye faction, on Wednesday sang from the same hymn book, saying they would now be one unit.

In all, four factions – Ekuphakameni, Ginyezinye, Ebuhleni and Mini Shembe - had wanted to be recognised as leaders of the church and had lodged applications to this end in the Pietermaritzburg High Court in 2007.

However, the two leaders on Wednesday said that was all water under the bridge now, as they shook hands and vowed to lead their followers to greater heights.

“It is time for us to come together and stop the infighting,” said Sizwe. “We don’t want to have a situation whereby a further 100 groups emerge from our church to form their own houses. We want to protect our faith.”

The on-going court case, he said, had cost the church more than R1 million.

Since the other two leaders, Vimbeni Shembe of Ebuhleni and Mini Shembe had since died, both Sizwe and Vukile said they saw no point in continuing with the leadership battle.

The two leaders, however, would not be drawn into saying which of them would lead the church, indicating that that issue would be dealt with once the court case had been withdrawn.

“We will deal with the case first, and then we will talk about the way forward. At the moment we are not even thinking about who, between us, will be the leader,” said Vukile Shembe.

The two leaders also distanced themselves from the Ebuhleni faction of the Shembe Church, which is also in court fighting over the leadership battle after their leader, Vimbeni Shembe, died in March.

That dispute originated during Vimbeni’s funeral on April 3, when his son, Mduduzi, was named as successor by Inkosi Mqoqi Ngcobo of the Maqadini clan, just before Vela Shembe - Mduduzi’s cousin - was also named as successor by the late leader’s lawyer, Zwelabantu Buthelezi.

Vela, a school teacher, subsequently made an urgent application to the Durban High Court asking to be appointed leader of the church and sole trustee of the Church of Nazareth Ecclesiastical Endowment Trust.

According to court papers, Vela was also asking that church secretary Chancey Sibisi hand over all documents, computer disks and other material relating to the affairs of the church, and that Ngcobo and Mduduzi be restrained from interfering with his anointment and appointment.

That matter is yet to be finalised.

Both Vukile and Sizwe said on Wednesday that while they are related to the two (Mduduzi and Vela), the Ebuhleni house was no longer part of the Nazareth Baptist Church.

The Shembe Church was founded by Isaiah Shembe more than 100 years ago, but split into two factions - Ebuhleni and Ekuphakameni - after the death of the founder.

The church further split into another two factions with the formation of Ginyezinye and Mini Shembe, run by its namesake.

Ebuhleni, led by the late Vimbeni Shembe, reportedly has the largest following.

Vukile and Sizwe said that once they had withdrawn the court case they would “deal with all other issues concerning the Nazareth church”.

The two leaders said the Ebuhleni faction would be “stripped” of the right to use anything that is not theirs, including property, hymn books and church gear.

“The court will decide on what things to take back, but we know which things originated from the Nazareth church,” said Sizwe.

Landile Shembe, a member of the Shembe family, said the two leaders had consulted with King Goodwill Zwelithini (who had agreed to be a witness when the court case is withdrawn), IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi (who was the head of Amakhosi, because about 60 percent of Amakhosi are Shembe followers), and kwaZulu-Natal premier Zweli Mkhize about their decision. - Daily News